Hard-working immigrant from India died a brutal death — over $113: DiManno
Toronto gas station worker Jayesh Prajapati died trying to stop the driver of an SUV from fleeing without paying, a second-degree murder trial heard Tuesday.
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He’s ringing up a sale at the cash register. He’s looking out the window. He’s streaking out from behind the counter. He’s bursting through the door. He’s raising his arms.
As if to say: STOP!
But there’s no audio on the surveillance footage.
And the last we see of Jayesh Prajapati is a blur of red and yellow — his Shell gas uniform jacket — disappearing out of the frame, at the front passenger edge of what we know is an older model silver Isuzu Rodeo SUV as it peels off in stop-frame slow motion.
From the witness stand, Det. Robert North explains what’s barely visible immediately after, just a speck of red protruding for a split second: “This is what I believe to be Mr. Prajapati starting to go underneath the vehicle.”
Later, almost 78 metres from that Shell station at 850 Roselawn Ave., police would discover Prajapati’s shoes; one over here, one over there.
Just beyond, finally dislodged from the undercarriage of the SUV as it crossed a set of unused railway tracks, the 44-year-old’s lifeless body, death caused by multiple blunt and crushing injuries.
A husband and father, a good man, well-liked by residents in the area for whom that gas station provided a handy convenience store. “I’ll honour you for next time,” he’d say to regulars from the public housing building across the street, if they happened to be cash-short for a jug of milk, a loaf of bread.
A man who, as recalled outside court Tuesday by Liberal MP Mike Colle — this is his riding, the gas station he frequented, Prajapati someone he knew — would travel two hours by TTC every day, getting to his job from the family home in Etobicoke.
A hard-working immigrant from India who, said Colle, had obtained his Canadian citizenship not long before that night, Sept. 15, 2012.
A dreadful loss of a human life. Over $112.85.
That amount, Crown attorney Jenny Rodopoulos told a jury Tuesday, is what the driver of the SUV hadn’t paid after gassing up, after filling two jerry cans with gasoline as well, shoving them in the back seat of the vehicle.
The SUV just took off into the night, dragging Prajapati away, wedged beneath.
Max Tutiven was arrested in Montreal three years later. He has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.
“The Crown’s theory is that either Mr. Tutiven saw Mr. Prajapati in the path of his travel and intentionally drove at and struck Mr. Prajapati with his vehicle and, rather than stopping, chose to keep driving,” Rodopoulos told jurors in her opening address.
“Or, even if Mr. Tutiven did not intentionally drive at Mr. Prajapati, after striking Mr. Prajapati with his vehicle, Mr. Tutiven chose not to stop and chose to continue driving, knowing that he was dragging Mr. Prajapati underneath his vehicle.”
On the first day of the trial, the jury was shown scores of still images taken from surveillance tape captured by several different cameras at and around the station. They also watched moving segments of those tapes.
But none of the cameras actually caught the point of impact.
There are, however, said Rodopoulos, eyewitnesses present and who will testify about what they saw. Those witnesses, court was told, include two men who were at the cash register just before Prajapati apparently spotted the SUV driver getting into his vehicle after replacing the gas nozzle without paying.
Another witness, from his 18th floor apartment across the street, heard someone yelling, “followed by a sickening sound of dragging and squealing tires,” said Rodopoulos. “When he heard a voice shout “Someone call 911!” he went on the balcony and saw an SUV fleeing along Roselawn, in the area of Marlee Ave. north of Eglinton Ave.
A further witness, said Rodopoulos, will testify about both hearing and seeing the dragging of Prajapati from her balcony.
On the video snippets played Tuesday — Prajapati’s widow, Vaishali, in the courtroom — the SUV driver is clearly visible going about his business, looking this way and that, but never removing a wallet from his pocket.
In coming days, jurors will also watch security video, Rodopoulos said in her “road map” introduction, of six earlier gas thefts that had occurred at different stations around Toronto between Nov. 10, 2011 and Aug. 24, 2012.
“All of the videos show a male suspect — who the Crown alleges was Mr. Tutiven — driving an older model silver Isuzu Rodeo, attending the Esso and Shell gas stations, pumping gas into the vehicle and into some red canisters, and then driving away without paying for the gas. These videos show the same suspect using the same vehicle and stealing gas in the same fashion as the male who killed Mr. Prajapati.”
Same guy as the man now sitting in the courtroom next to his defence lawyer, she said.
It will be for the judge to explain the relevance of similar fact evidence.
A gas-and-dash crime, as alleged.
Except this one ended with a dead employee, a widowed wife and a fatherless son.
“What Mr. Prajapati didn’t know when he went to work that evening was that he would never finish his shift.”
The trial continues.
Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Note: Sherry Brydson, heiress, is the granddaughter of newspaper proprietor Roy Thomson and niece to Ken Thomson, late owner of the Globe and Mail. Information which appeared in this column space Monday was incorrect.